Moviegoing and Golem-Making: The Case of Blade Runner

By Wilson, Eric G. | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

Moviegoing and Golem-Making: The Case of Blade Runner


Wilson, Eric G., Journal of Film and Video


TO GO TO A FILM IN A CERTAIN MOOD IS to yearn for Eden, the world redeemed beyond decay and the self restored to a grace. Viewed in this light, the exquisite forms on the screen-a Grant or Loy-prove realizations of the potential for truth and beauty and goodness that most of us possess but fail to actualize. But in worshipping these artificial shapes, one risks experiencing the opposite of Eden: imprisonment in the superficial conventions of the fallen world. Grant and Loy as they appear in the picture-house are crass commodities as much as ideal models, tools of greed as much as holy schools. If mimicking these figures can lead to the miraculous realization of noble possibility, it can also result in monstrous violation: the blurring of natural and artificial, animate and inanimate, human and machine.

This tension between miracle and monster troubles the history of golem-making. In animating with God's word a man of mud, the magus is torn between the desire to form a new Adam and the yearning to concoct an obedient servant. The former impulse might fulfill spiritual possibilities, provide a model of innocence regained. The latter might end in an affront to order, a machine moving like a man. Embodying this tension between realization and violation, the golem becomes a proxy for Grant or Gable. The artifice of the magus and the illusion of the director are sites of liberation and control, organic exuberance and dull mechanism. To mimic the golem or Grant-to be a magus or moviegoer-is to suffer these same conflicts: to entertain transcendence of the fallen condition, to risk turning into an android.

Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) selfconsciously explores this affinity between the matter of the android and the subject of the cinema. Scott's meditation on the conjunction between miracle and monstrosity reflects on the double binds that issue from the attempt to embody freedom in a determined pattern. This golem movie is an artistic depiction of a man's struggle to reconcile crass mechanical limitations with noble human affections. It is also a mechanical production that inculcates into its viewers clichés reducing behavior to predictable patterns. Vision of both the redemption and the commodification of existence, Blade Runner erases itself, leaving viewers trapped between agency and engine. This imprisonment might well induce despair, the hopelessness of limbo. But this same entrapment could possibly inspire a vision of an unexpected golem, an illuminated machine, a system of cogs blessed with consciousness-a projector that radiates light and sound, elegant motions, and profound reflections.

In the film, this struggle between agency and determinism is embodied in Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), an android who strives for humanity, and in Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), an ostensible human who is likely a machine. For much of the film, Roy attempts to reconcile his two natures while Deckard slowly becomes aware of his own split. At the moment when Roy transcends this duality to become an ideal human-when he moves from golem as monster to golem as miracle-Deckard realizes his own rift and appears to strive for synthesis between necessity and freedom. Hauerand Ford, as movie stars, mimic this struggle and point toward this resolution. As moving images, each blends ideal grace and crass commodity. Watching this double existence, the audience occupies the position of Deckard: it witnesses the fundamental struggle between perfection and reality and hopefully envisions concord, however unattainable.

The Golem Myth

The golem originates in the Cabbalistic cosmogony of the Zohar, a thirteenth-century revision of Genesis. The Cabbalistic God is En-Sof, the Infinite, who manifests its depths in Sefiroth, numbers.1 These seven emanations form spiritual archetypes of En-Sof and constitute a spiritual organism. They are the Tree of God, an invisible growth in mystical Eden. They are Adam Kadmon ("Man Projection"), the androgynous spiritual body. …

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